Word Count: 3,070
Spoilers: All of season 1
Summary: It's the first study group session of the fall semester, and Jeff and Annie are the only ones who show up on time. Cue the awkwardest silence known to man.
Author's Note: This was for the prompt 'Awkward silences, Jeff/Annie' from crackers4jenn. CHECK IT OUT, CRACKERS4JENN, I HAVE WRITTEN COMMUNITY FANFIC AGAIN!!!!! Does this really merit 5 exclamation points? We'll see.
Also, I have always been staunchly conventional in my writing, and therefore of the belief that you are supposed to be privy to one character's thoughts and one character's alone in a scene, but I just read the lovely One Day by David Nicholls yesterday, which happily hopped from brain to brain in the course of one scene a whole bunch, and it made me want to try my hand at it. I must say: SUPER GOOD TIMES! Why have I not been rollin' like this for always?
Also, for the sake of truthiness: Jeff's first line has been pretty much shamelessly thieved from Marshall Erikson. I can't help it; oh, HIMYM, you and your witty way of sayin' stuff!
Jeff is late for the first study group session of the fall semester. Yeah, on purpose. So is Annie, and do you know how much it physically pains her to be late on purpose? A lot! That’s how much! But sometimes, you just have to be late. Late enough to make sure that by the time you get there, everyone else will have arrived too. Leaving no room for, well, for the potential of—
—the massive, searing, never-ending, super-eternal awkward silence that swallows the whole study room like Jeff wishes he could swallow like five Advil because he knows what that feeling is in his temples. It is a stress headache. Annie taught him that. Right before she took down her hair and took off her pink sweater and became suddenly, inconveniently, age-inappropriately hot. The fact that he remembers what color her sweater was: alarming.
“You know what,” Jeff says, after eleven minutes of pristine and perfect silence, “it’s only awkward if we let it be awkward.”
“Yeah!” Annie agrees, perhaps more chipper than she has ever been. More chipper, even, than the time that the campus bookstore had an Everything Goes 90% off discount sale on multicolored index cards, under the grounds that the only person who cared enough to actually use them was Annie. “That’s right! This awkward silence isn’t the boss of us!”
“Hell no!” says Jeff, and yeah, that’s an actual exclamation point. God, what has he become? “This awkward silence should be working for us.”
“At minimum wage!” Annie contributes.
“With no health benefits,” Jeff agrees, because yeah, there’s a zinger right there.
They sink back into awkward silence. It is so, so, indisputably the boss of them.
Annie, for the record, has only kissed a handful of guys. And not even a normal handful. A sad, disturbed handful, a three-fingered handful. She’s beginning to think that maybe ‘handful’ wasn’t the right word to pick, but every time she looks at Jeff her brain turns all fluffy and she’s pretty sure that she’s going to explode, and besides, she’s a new Annie Edison! She’s living life fast and loose and backpackless! Picking the right word isn’t her priority anymore. But the fact that she made the fast, loose, backpackless jump right into kissing Jeff Winger makes her want to – to put on the nearest cardigan and pin her hair back and sort her collection of unused multicolored index cards (acquired, by the way, for a beyond reasonable price). Sure, it’s not exactly living, and yes, okay, she vowed to try the whole living thing, but he’s so old(er than her) and peskily handsome and profoundly flawed and she has no idea, no idea what she’s doing. But she should probably say something, so that she can at least get rid of this—
—SILENCE, yeah, apparently it’s a thing, a permanent thing, a thing that’s The Way Things Are Now. Jeff is tempted to break out his phone and surreptitiously text Britta under the table, something of the douchey ‘Just because you’re in love with me doesn’t mean you get to skip study group’ variety (even though really, he’s pretty sure that’s exactly what it means) so that she’ll come down here, a festival of righteous fury and impeccably tailored lumberjack shirts that are supposed to convey a sense of ‘Check me out, I’m a tomboy and I don’t care how I look but I still look awesome’ rather than a sense of the far more obvious ‘Check me out, my rack is way better than a lumberjack’s.’ He misses Britta. Yeah, that’s right, he misses Britta. At least with Britta, he can act like an asshole and know that she can hold her own. (He thinks. He can, right? The Tranny Dance made him question a lot of things – like, for example, his faith in humanity, again (Tranny Dance?) – but probably Britta the most. Britta, who is at least supposed to pretend that his crap doesn’t get to her, that she’d never expected anything less than pure 100% unadulterated douchebag behavior from him.) But Annie’s so – well, annoying, and amazing, and she seems to think that he’s actually capable of more than mere douchebaggery (which bugs him or scares him or makes him feel kind of good, depending on what day it is) and that thing about strangling the Little Mermaid with a bike chain still stands. He doesn’t want to hurt her, and – and, well, it’s not like he plans on it. But he knows that if this thing got out, the second that it got out, everyone would be waiting for him to screw up and screw her over, to epic proportions. He can’t even think about what Shirley would do with the knowledge that he (because this is real, this is a thing that actually happened, an actual true thing) made out with Annie right on the Greendale quad. Spoiler alert: it would probably involve castration, and later earnest, honey-voiced assurances that said castration was for The Greater Good. Jeff imagines himself helplessly yowling “Jesus would want me to keep my junk!!” while Shirley inched in on him, all mama-bear-merciless, and, gotta say, it’s not his favorite mental picture. So this Annie thing, this whole Annie thing, it shouldn’t even be a thing, but she’s sitting right there, biting her lip, looking nervous and beautiful in this cute little summer dress with tiny pink flowers on it, yeah, that’s right, he just noticed tiny pink flowers, and she’s got one hand on her neck, her neck, he would not hate to be kissing her neck right now, hey, maybe castration is the ideal option here, it wouldn’t be the first time Shirley was right (although it would be the first time that The Shirley In His Brain Who Has Nothing To Do With Actual Real Shirley And Therefore Shouldn’t Have This Much Influence Over Him was), and Annie looks up from her notebook at him with her big brown eyes, her mouth a little open like she means to be talking but the words (like their study group) won’t show up, and God—
—she really, really wishes Jeff didn’t look like Jeff, or act like Jeff, because maybe then she wouldn’t be having these problems. She tries to imagine him as Starburns instead. It doesn’t really work. Jeff looks like he’s trying to do an impression of himself: he’s slouched in his chair, his standard I’m-bored-and-great-but-just-because-I’m-b
“You took my eraser,” she says.
“Oh.” Jeff stares down at the eraser like he’s never seen it before. “Sorry. I thought it was a pencil.”
“Well, it’s not,” Annie says, her voice going oddly defensive. “It’s an eraser.”
“I see that now,” Jeff agrees. Oh, crap, she’s going to go crazy, he thinks. He also thinks Man, she’s hot when she’s mad, but let’s keep that thought in a faraway secret place where those Dateline reporters can’t get at it.
“And if you had tried to write with it,” she continues, even though she realizes that she should not be continuing, “well, you would have been in for a world of hurt, mister!”
Jeff stares at her. (Oh, God, oh, God, he thinks. She’s going to kill me. Maybe with this eraser. He’s freaked for like a fraction in a second until he realizes, no, that feeling is actually relief. Please, put him out of his misery.)
She stares back. (Oh, God, oh, God, she thinks. He’s wondering why he ever came within five feet of me. And I’m wondering it too. And I think I might have been the one to come within five feet of him. God, why did I come within five feet of him???)
(Jeff, for the record, isn’t wondering that. He may regret a lot of things, but coming within five feet of Annie isn’t one of them.)
Annie decides that the solution is to give him a new pencil, but then she realizes she doesn’t have a backpack. She brought one pencil, and one retractable eraser, and one notebook. Because this is new, carefree Annie.
“I would lend you a pencil,” she says, feeling horribly betrayed by herself, her new great self who wears insensible heels and spent half an hour this morning picking out her sundress even though she knows that there’s no way Jeff Winger pays attention to sundresses (There are little green flowers in addition to the pink ones, Jeff notices; technically, it doesn’t make sense, because he doesn’t know whether green flowers exist, but Annie pulls it off, not that he’s thinking about Annie pulling off her clothing, nope, nope), “but I only brought one.”
“That’s okay,” Jeff says, feeling pretty humiliated by exactly how much he has anticipated this moment, and by the half hour he spent at the campus bookstore this morning contemplating the relative merits of different pencil cases. “I came prepared.”
He holds up said pencil case. It’s green, and full of eight .7 pencils in various colors, no big deal, and he feels like he’s standing underneath a balcony throwing pebbles at her window, waiting to see whether she’ll come out.
“Oh, Jeff,” she says, with one of those little delighted Annie squeals.
‘It’s no big deal’ is what he means to say, but she looks so happy and so normal that what he says instead is, “We kissed.”
SHIT, thinks Jeff.
OH GOSH, thinks Annie.
“I know,” she says, and she wants to look down at her notebook, where she’s only written the date and even the corners of her numbers seem to curve unusually, hopefully, like today is meant to be different. She looks right into his eyes instead, making herself do it. It’s not too hard.
“A lot,” Jeff emphasizes, and thinks WHO AM I, and thinks, A pervy old man, and thinks, Pierce, I am essentially Pierce, next I will be wearing an ironic World’s Best Grandpa shirt. Streets ahead, Ay-bed.
“I know,” Annie says, her eyes going wide. It makes him feel better.
“What’s up with that?” he continues, heartened.
“I have no idea,” Annie says: four words that she’s made a habit of only allowing past her lips when it’s absolutely necessary. Annie, she likes to have some idea. Ideas are good. But (she thinks, remembering his hands in her hair, remembering how breathless and lovely and good and accidental and accidentally right it felt, remembering the dark sky and the fairy lights and the wonderful closeness of him, something it hadn’t even dawned on her to hope for, even though she’s always been the expert at hoping for things, hoping far too hard for things) impulses aren’t so bad either, sometimes. “It’s a weird feeling, to have no idea.”
“Yeah,” Jeff agrees, “What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” Annie says – three words Jeff knows for a fact that she doesn’t like to say. It means something, a quiet little something that veers way too close to Hallmark Card to make him comfortable, that she says it to him. And then she gets that look on her face, that look that comes out of nowhere every time and has kind of made him jumpy and dazed (a good kind of jumpy, a good kind of dazed) ever since it turned up just before she grabbed him and kissed him in front of a gym full of people. “But I’m not sorry it happened.”
“Yeah,” Jeff says. Sometimes his expression does that when he looks at her, turns a little softer and more kind, and Annie simultaneously can’t quite believe that it’s Jeff and feels like it’s more Jeff than the Jeff they all usually get to see. She’s keenly, irritatingly, pleasantly aware of her own heartbeat. She wonders if he is too. (For the record, he’s not unaware.) “Me either.”
They smile at each other. It’s quiet, except for the tick-tick-tick of the clock. It’s not so bad this time. Neither of them count the seconds.
“Guess who I saw first thing as soon as I stepped on campus?” Jeff says then, the promise of a good (meaning disturbing; this is Greendale, after all) story in his voice.
Annie takes a moment to analyze the exact disturbed-slash-amused crinkle of his brow, liking the way his nose scrunches up a little and the way she knows he would hate it if she ever pointed it out, then deduces, “The Dean?”
“The Dean,” Jeff confirms grimly. He likes the way she listens, which is (big surprise) weird, but true: somehow, she makes even listening into this enthusiastic, excited, radiant act. He’s into that. Jeff Winger has been known to enjoy talking. You know. Once or twice. “So I get out of my car, and he’s there, like, three inches from my face.”
Annie frowns. “That seems really unprofessional.”
“Uh, yeah. And for the record, people actually do use that citrus-flavored toothpaste, and by people, I mean him, and yeah, that toothpaste is exactly as bad an idea as it sounds.”
“So the first thing he does is put his hand right here—” Jeff illustrates on his own body. Annie cringes the cringe of Yeah, Definitely Unprofessional. And on the tale of parking lot discomfort goes.
By the time the group finally straggles in at noon, they’re in the middle of a lively conversation debating the pros and cons of taking ART143/PE122: Underwater Basketweaving. Which, yeah, is an actual option here. (“Annie, it is a universal joke of a class. You get that, right?” “I’m just saying, there’s nothing wrong with having a varied skill set!”)
“Uh, thanks for gracing us with your presences, finally,” Jeff says to the non-Annie faction of the group. “And yeah, in case you were wondering: that was subtle, tactful code for You’re All Late.”
Britta, who comes in last and has her sunglasses on (and, Jeff notes with a stab of complicated fondness and guilt and, okay, fear, but mostly fondness, a hot-chick-lumberjack shirt. And yes, her rack is better than a lumberjack’s), says, “Didn’t we say noon?”
“I thought it was eleven thirty,” Annie says, wrinkling her nose in confusion. Ugh, New Annie isn’t supposed to harp on punctuality! she chastises herself; Jeff thinks something along the lines of Aw, that’s so Annie, then realizes exactly how much that sounds like a show for Disney tweens and wants to stab himself in the brain. Annie throws a little glance his way, and the brain-stabby urges subside.
“Yeah,” Jeff says. “Wasn’t it?”
“It was noon,” Abed says with his usual crispness. His eyes dart back and forth discerningly between Jeff and Annie. They are both, with good reason, seized by terror.
“Oh,” Annie says weakly.
“Oh,” Jeff repeats, tones not exactly boiling over with masculine conviction.
“Are you two sure you didn’t have a reason to come in early?” Pierce asks. “Something you …” He pauses suggestively, “—wanted?”
Annie bites her lip again. Jeff gulps. Like a cartoon character.
“Sale on pencil cases,” Pierce says, by way of explanation, “in the bookstore.” He grins proudly and holds up one that reads, in big white blocky text, OH YEAH STICK YOUR PENCIL IN ME.
“Pencil here meaning penis,” Pierce explains, so unnecessarily.
“It’s provocative,” Pierce continues, undaunted. “Oh, speaking of. New catchphrase I developed over the summer: ‘suck it, KFed!’”
“Suck what?” Troy asks, with genuine interest.
“Pencils?” Pierce muses.
“Lollipops?” Shirley says, with cautious optimism.
“Popsicles,” Britta contributes.
“Dirt off the carpet?” proposes Shirley. “You know, like a vacuum.”
“Ooh, good one,” Britta says. “Blood? Like that sexy vampire kid who, by the way, isn’t sexy, and that series is the most offensive thing to happen to women, or, hey, humanity, in the last one hundred years—”
“Penises, probably,” Pierce says decisively.
“Second most offensive,” Britta amends. Shirley nods in grave agreement.
“Interesting,” Abed says in a low voice – though not quite low enough that Annie can’t hear it too – as he sits down next to Jeff.
“Don’t you want to be sitting next to Troy?” Jeff says, trying to stave off the impending attack of unwanted perceptiveness.
“We can see each other’s faces better if we’re opposite the table from each other,” explains Abed. “It’s the ideal scenario for eye contact, so we can have wordless conversations about study group goings-on without any of you being aware of it.”
“Oh, that’s swell,” Jeff mutters.
Troy’s eyes widen significantly. He wiggles his eyebrows, then winks, then resumes an expression of poker faced inscrutability. Abed blinks three times, rolls his eyes, and then returns his focus to Jeff. Damn it.
“I thought that all of the sexual tension this season was going to come from you and Britta after the awkward fall-out of the Tranny Dance,” Abed says in that same low-but-not-too-low voice. Annie tries really hard to look like she’s not listening. “Classic romantic cliffhanger.”
“Season?” Jeff asks, desperate for a distraction.
“Autumn,” Abed replies without so much as a pause. He continues, tapping his chin with a pensive finger and looking way less stupid than he should performing such a stupid gesture. “But the tension was here already when we got into the room. And Britta came in last …”
“Suck it, KFed,” Jeff grumbles.
Annie smiles a little to herself, and her handwriting is abnormally, newly swoopy and cheerful as she scribbles ‘YEAR 2: STUDY GROUP SESSION #1.’ She underlines it with flourish. Jeff isn’t looking at Annie, or anything, but the corners of his mouth lift up, barely and fondly.
Abed lifts one eyebrow in a flawless arch Troy’s way.
“No way!” Troy exclaims loudly. “Jeff and Annie????”
Not a whole lot of studying gets done.